Month: January 2008

Parody Poster: Heroes

Here’s the first of a new series of posts describing how I created various TV show parody posters using Photoshop.

First, here’s the original reference desktop graphic that I used as inspiration:

Heroes poster

The first step was to come up with a font that was similar. In Photoshop, I typed “HEROES” and changed the font several times to find a close sans-serif font. I wanted to be close, but I didn’t care about being exact because of the short deadline I was working with. I finally settled on Futura; the “S” is slightly different but the shape of the “R” was the closest of the fonts I had on my system:

Trying to match Heroes font

Next, I worked on the eclipse graphic. First, I created a black vector circle shape and applied a slight outer glow effect to it. (My examples are on a blue background so you can better see the effects.)

Eclipse - vector circle.

I added a new layer and, using the brush tool with a soft edge, painted a white fuzzy blob behind the vector shape. The strongest part of the lighting effect is at 1-2 o’clock, with another stronger edge at 7-8 o’clock. In the diagram below, I’ve lowered the opacity of the black circle layer so you can see the relative shape of the white blob layer.

Brush layer

I used the smudge tool with a soft brush shape to drag out “rays” in the white blob layer:

Smudging the white layer

With the smudging, the effect was a little too big for me, so I transformed the layer and shrunk it slightly.

Slightly smaller effect

Next, I created a new layer over the black vector shape and made a small fuzzy white blob. Using the smudge tool again with a slightly smaller brush size, I dragged out from the center of the shape to make the sharper highlight points.
Highlight layer

A little more tweaking to the various smudge layers, and here’s what I ended up with:

Final text effect

Now for the blur to the words. I duplicated the text layer, right-clicked on the layer in the Layers palette and chose “Rasterize Type.” I applied a motion blur filter (set to vertical). Then I lowered the opacity slightly (60%) of the blurred layer:

Text effect with blur

Now for the photo collage. I had two istockphoto images and a photo of youth staff and volunteers taken by someone else:

istockphoto - corporate office

istockphoto - dramatic clouds

Original photo

I started by creating a document that had a very faint background gradient – pure black at the top, #08090b at the bottom, and moved in my recreated Heroes logo:

Starter document

I pasted in the people photo and used the dodge tool to slightly darken the bottom edge of the photo:

Adding people

I applied a Levels adjustment layer to get the background to be blacker and to increase the contrast slightly.

Levels adjustment layer

I added a Channel Mixer adjustment layer to give the picture a sepia tone:

Channel mixer layer

The original had a bit more tonality in it as opposed to being a flat sepia image. So under the Channel Mixer layer, I added a Curves adjustment layer and played with the different channels until I got something that worked better for me.

Curves adjustment layer

After curves adjustment

I pasted in the two stock photos under all the adjustment layers, flipping the office building and lowering the opacity of both layers to 38%. Then I added layer masks and used a soft brush to mask out the edges of the photos and blend them over the people photo.

With stock photos

The last step was to add in the little “FBC Studios” logo in the corner, and my poster was complete:

Final Heroes parody poster

See other articles in the Parody Posters series.

Decluttering cables and devices for under $35 Mike Rohde sent me a link to, where Van Mardian demonstrates with text and photos how he mounted a pegboard to the bottom of his Ikea Jerker desk and then mounted his devices and cables to the pegboard for a beautifully clean desk surface. As I’ve been struggling myself with device and cable management (at one point using florist’s tape, because that’s all I had on hand, to bind cables into neat bundles — the florist’s tape eventually dried out and unraveled) and have a Jerker desk myself, this is Very Inspiring and may make it onto my 2008 personal projects list.

Food reference sheet

I’ve put together a food reference sheet based on compiled information from Organic or Not? by Cindy Burke and How to Pick a Peach by Russ Parsons.


Disclaimers: No guarantees about the accuracy of this information. 🙂


  • Food – Name of produce item.
  • Organic – If “yes,” then it’s best to choose organic.
  • Conventional – If “OK,” then it has less pesticide danger.
  • Notes – When to purchase locally (for best flavor), whether to avoid or purchase imported, and other notes.
  • Storage – How to best store the produce.
  • Choosing – How to choose a “good” one.

Some of the items are highlighted:

  • Green – Highest levels of pesticides, so you should definitely purchase organic versions.
  • Yellow – Lowest levels of pesticides, so you’re safe purchasing conventional versions.

Month-long food expense tracking

I mentioned earlier in December that I was in the middle of a month-long food expense tracking experiment and had so far been able to see first-hand how much money you can save by cooking meals instead of eating out. I kept Very Detailed Spreadsheets of exactly what we were spending money on for food (including eating out and individual grocery items like “three onions”) and how much money each meal cost. The purpose of this experiment: To see how our grocery budget was impacted by purchasing mostly organic and/or locally-produced food.

The month is over, I’ve tallied up the numbers, and here are the results:

  • Grocery costs: $298.11
    • Includes at  least $235.55 spent on organic/locally-produced foods
    • Does not include items that were already in the pantry or freezer
    • Does not include food purchased for Christmas gifts (we made potstickers for friends, for example)
    • Includes money spent on food that was used to feed other people — potlucks, Christmas brunch, inviting friends over for dinner, etc.
    • January – November 2007 11-month average of monthly grocery costs: $322.12 – $24.01 less than average
  • Eating-out costs: $102.13
    • I don’t have an 11-month average of eating out costs because my budget tracking lumps all “fun” activities into one category, including eating out. However, I’d guess that this is a typical amount.

I was initially surprised that we spent less on groceries on average. Purchasing conventional, non-organic foods seems cheaper, after all:

  • Organic milk is more than twice as much as conventional milk, and we’ve been buying more milk than usual because I’ve been having to drink a certain amount for my glucose-intolerant diet.
  • The free-range eggs we buy at the Farmer’s Market are twice as much as normal eggs on sale, which is what we used to get.
  • Organic cheese is also significantly more expensive.

But performing some additional analysis helps to bring this into perspective so that it makes sense:

  • We purchased and ate less meat overall. Usually I buy meat in bulk and freeze it, and we usually would have meat for dinner every day. However, the sticker shock of free-range and/or organic meats meant that I ended up purchasing and cooking far less meat than we usually would eat. This in itself probably saved us a lot of money.
  • We obtained in-season produce at the Farmer’s Market. My old method of menu planning was to pick out recipes that sounded yummy, generate a shopping list, and pick everything up from the store. This month, I found myself making a loose menu plan but revising it as I saw what produce was available at the Farmer’s Market, sometimes even building a menu plan on the fly while walking the stalls. Some of the produce was very cheap — for example, I got 50-cent heads of cabbage several times which made Very Cheap Potluck side dishes and could be used in stir fry, fried rice, soup, and more. In contrast, my former method of menu planning involved purchasing lots of out-of-season foods, most of which were probably imported and/or processed and therefore more expensive.
  • We were more aware of our money. Tracking every penny spent on food helped to motivate me to really make the most of the produce I bought. I’m guilty of buying produce, using a tiny bit in a recipe, and letting the rest rot in the fridge. Because I was keeping track of the food I bought and how much was used in each recipe, I found myself becoming creative with leftover bits of produce and using every bit up. For example, a remaining half of a bell pepper got sliced up with some onions into an egg scramble for a few breakfasts, as did leftover cabbage. I think we only ended up with one moldy orange, one rotten apple, half a bunch of cilantro, and a few leaves of lettuce that had to be thrown out!

If you’re curious about the gory details of the food expense tracking and cost of meals, I’ve published the Google Doc workbook here: 12/1/2007 Food expense. Here are a few notes of explanation:

  • The first spreadsheet, “Expenses,” has the breakdown of all the money spent on food in December.
    • For simplicity, I tallied only foods purchased at the Farmer’s Market and our local food co-op as “organic/locally-produced.” The actual amount spent on organic foods is probably higher because I think some of the things we bought from Safeway and Costco were also organic.
    • I categorized items as “groceries” for general grocery items that we’d eat throughout the day that would be hard to keep track of, “meals” for grocery items that I could keep track of by meal, “fun” for eating out, and “gifts” for items that were used to make Christmas presents. “Gifts” were not included in my grocery total.
  • The second spreadsheet, “Food,” shows the food we ate each day and the cost per meal.
    • The actual cost column only includes the cost of groceries bought that month. I did make notes in the last column if I used food from the pantry or freezer and if I knew approximately how much it was.
    • I calculated the cost to make an actual dish, so if there were leftovers on subsequent days, I didn’t calculate the cost for those days. However, you can get a sense of how many servings each dish provided — and I started putting numbers to indicate how many servings were served that day.

So in conclusion, while I never want to keep such detailed track of food expenses ever again, I think this was a very valuable experiment. It’s one thing to read or hear from someone else about how eating out is more expensive and another thing to personally calculate the cost yourself and compare the numbers. It was also encouraging to see that we aren’t spending any more on groceries (and perhaps even less) by purchasing “more expensive” organic, locally-produced foods. Given the health, environmental, and sociological benefits of doing so, we’re going to continue along this path!

Appendix: Related blog posts

These blog posts relate to the topic of organic, local, sustainable food and the cost of food:

Homemade Christmas presents

This year for Christmas with Steve’s family, we drew names of individuals (children, even unborn children, included) for Christmas gifts. For some reason someone then had the bright idea of adding the further restriction that gifts had to be homemade/handmade.

Steve and I were in charge of three gifts: Steve drew his aunt, I drew Steve’s nephew, and “the baby” drew his future uncle. We ended up doing quite a bit of teamwork on all the presents.

Steve’s nephew is seven years old. I forget whether Steve or I had the idea first, but we came up with building a wooden treasure chest. I looked online and found some cool kits, but shipping was prohibitive, so we decided to build our own!

Treasure Chest plan I sketched out a rough plan with dimensions and we went shopping for wood and materials. Our good friends who live a few doors down have all kinds of tools including a table saw, jigsaw, etc., so we went over and spent two weekends cutting the wood, putting it together with wood screws (main frame) and nails (top slats), staining it, and adding hinges, a chain on the inside to keep the lid from opening too far, and a latch and small padlock. We read some stuff on making real wood joins but it seemed too complicated for the short timeframe we were working with (plus the fact that neither of us had any experience making wood joins!), and let’s face it, we didn’t think a seven-year-old would care! Steve and I pretty much worked equally on the chest together even though it was technically “my” project.

Given that this was my first real experience using power tools and building a “real” item out of wood and that we made up our own plans, I thought the chest turned out really great! Here are a few photos, you can see the rest on Flickr:

Open treasure chest Treasure chest Treasure chest closeup

Next, we attempted to make wooden pens for Steve’s aunt and brother-in-law. My sister’s husband has a lathe and other tools necessary for making wooden pens in addition to a lot of the wooden blocks (called “blanks”), so I went online and bought two pen kits — the metal pieces that make up the rest of the pen. We then spent three weekends driving out to their house to use his tools. Unfortunately, I had apparently picked a style of pen kit that was complicated to work with, and my brother in law didn’t have any experience with that type and couldn’t help us. After using up about 5 different blanks and being generally unsuccessful, we got frustrated with the whole thing and decided to think of alternative homemade presents to give!

Steve was stuck for a while on what to do for his aunt until his mom suggested that we make her a shadowbox. We couldn’t have done this without his mom, who spent some time pulling out old photos for us to use. Steve ended up focusing on photos of his mom and aunt. I pulled out various materials and arranged them in the box for him to pick from and he made executive decisions on what to include. I handled most of the assembly, although Steve trimmed the photos and bored the holes in the side of the cardboard frame for the clothesline. He also picked out the small picture frame and we used a more current photo. (I’m really into the frame-within-a-frame idea.)

Here’s the final result. It’s interesting how cameras differ from the human eye — the ribbon shows up much more “orangey” in this picture; in person, it looks like the same shade as the red dresses in the main photo.

Shadow box

Two down, one more to go. I was having some problems coming up with presents for the baby to give our brother-in-law. Thinking about our former success with wood, I thought about making a mancala game with a wooden board that could fold in half and latch to be “travel-friendly” and even bought some materials, but returned them all as I didn’t think it was that great of an idea and might just end up collecting dust in the long run!

As the day drew near, I finally decided to do a two-part present. I ordered a photo calendar through Costco, uploading family pictures and adding family birthdays and anniversaries. Then, I spent the weekend before Christmas making homemade chocolate-covered gummy bears, his favorite sweet snack. It was a little time-consuming but pretty easy to do — we slowly melted chocolate chips in the microwave, stabbed gummy bears with toothpicks, and swirled them around in the chocolate. I put them in a large Coke glass, found at a thrift store — our brother-in-law has some Coke paraphernalia that he’s collected over the years — and wrapped it all up with holiday-colored plastic wrap.

Chocolate covered gummy bears

While it was at times stressful and frustrating, we found that making presents for a few individuals was overall a very rewarding experience for both the giver and the receiver!

New Year’s Eve and Parody Posters

After my unplanned blogging break over the holidays, I have somewhat-dated post ideas coming out of my ears. So I’ll start with something a little more recent — What I Did For New Year’s Eve.

My church has a New Year’s Eve party for junior-high and high-schoolers involving fun activities all over the church campus (dodgeball tournament, video games, inflatable sumo wrestling suits, arts/crafts, etc.) and culminating in a lip-sync contest performed by different groups of students and staff/volunteers. Steve and I have volunteered the past four years, including this past weekend, along with 40-50 other adult volunteers, by helping to supervise the different activities, serve food, and clean up. The past couple years, we’ve also helped before the event with the decor.

This year, the theme for the main room was “The Price is Right.” Local businesses donate lots of different door prizes which are raffled off, but this year we made use of the game show format to allow kids to win prizes as well. In the three days leading up to the New Year, a few of us got together and put together a low-budget but fantastic-looking set for the main room, including a functional big Plinko board.

Photo of set - front stage

We pretended that the main room would be like a live taping of The Price is Right, so set up the foyer to be the entrance to “NBC FBC Studios.” I designed a mashup logo of our church logo and the NBC logo and helped to make a sign that hung outside the door.

FBC Studios sign

The foyer featured parody posters of TV shows created by yours truly. I did some poster and font research on Saturday and put together some high-res “base” posters, sans photos. Another volunteer took photos of the pastors, staff, and some youth worker volunteers on Sunday afternoon. I then had a few hours to stitch together the photos and posters and make it all look relatively decent so that we could get them printed for the next day.

Foyer with parody posters

I think I’ll do a series of posts describing some of the specific Photoshop steps I took to make the posters, so for now, I’ll just show you the end result compared to the original TV show poster:

Ugly Betty poster Ugly Shelly poster

Grey’s Anatomy poster Joe's Anatomy poster

Lost poster Lost? poster

Scrubs poster Scrubs poster

Heroes poster Heroes poster

The Office poster The Office parody poster

You can view more photos of the setup and first part of the event (before my camera battery died) on flickr.

Before the parody poster series commences, expect to see posts ranging from a food reference sheet to homemade Christmas presents in the next few days!

Reading: Alexander McCall Smith, How to Pick a Peach, Tea, and Fablehaven

Love Over Scotland by Alexander McCall Smith – The third book in 44 Scotland Street series. The books originated as a periodical series, so the chapters are short and move forward quickly through the lives of the eclectic group of people featured in these books, including my favorite, the prodigious six-year-old Bertie and his controlling mother. While you can probably just jump into this book, there are some details that refer back to the previous two books.

The Five Lost Aunts of Harriet Bean by Alexander McCall Smith – I didn’t realize until recently that the extremely productive Alexander McCall Smith also wrote children’s books. This is a short chapter book following a girl named Harriet Bean who tries to track down her five aunts, whom she’s never met before.

The Perfect Hamburger and Other Delicious Stories by Alexander McCall Smith – Another children’s book comprised of three stories about food and kids.

How to Pick a Peach by Russ Parsons – I really enjoyed Parsons’ How to Read a French Fry and found an advanced reader’s copy of How to Pick a Peach available at our library. This book covers common (and some uncommon) fruits and vegetables, which are grouped together by season; Parsons talks about how each food has a certain growing and harvesting season when it tastes the best, information which has nearly been lost from common knowledge thanks to super-supermarkets that have strawberries all year round. Each chapter has information about the fruit or vegetable, including where it’s grown, how to pick a good one, the basics of how to prepare it (including “one simple recipe”), and a few recipes featuring each food. Great resource for people who are interested in getting local, seasonal foods, or anyone who enjoys food in general. 

Death of a Hussy, Death of a Glutton, Death of a Charming Man by M.C. Beaton – Still enjoying the Hamish Macbeth series of mysteries…

Liquid Jade by Beatrice Hohenegger – Better written than Vanilla, same genre of food history but covering the history of tea. I found this book fascinating to read as it talked about trade, colonialism, and the rise and fall of different types of tea. The chapters are quick reads. The last section of the book covers various tea miscellany, including “how much caffeine is in tea” and “what’s the difference between black, green, white, and red tea.”

Fablehaven and Fablehaven: Rise of the Evening Star by Brandon Mull – Kendra and Seth have been sent to live with their grandfather at his large estate, Fablehaven, for the summer. They find out that Fablehaven is actually a preserve for magical creatures, including fairies, golems, naiads, and more. Seth makes some bad choices which throws everyone into danger, and it’s up to Kendra to save the day. In the second book, Seth and Kendra cross paths with the nefarious Society of the Evening Star, a group that tries to overthrow these magical preserves in order to exploit the magical creatures that live within them. The book goes through twists and turns as Seth and Kendra try to figure out who they can trust and again, bear the weight of saving the world on their shoulders.

At first, I didn’t like Fablehaven at all because I hate plot lines where someone makes deliberate rule-breaking choices and gets everyone in trouble, which was essentially the first half of this book. (Side note: Similarly, I dislike movie plot lines where the comedy and suspense depend on one person who lies and then spends the rest of the movie trying to keep the lie afloat… but my one exception is “While You Were Sleeping,” which is one of my favorite movies.) I kept reading mainly because I wanted to see how everything got resolved, and by the end of the book, decided somewhat grudgingly that it wasn’t bad. I enjoyed the second book a lot better as Seth and Kendra were more of a team (and both more mature) and I think it was probably a bit better written as well. Looking forward to the third book which will hopefully be released at some point in the spring of 2008.

    With a bookmark: (Books I just started reading, or books I’ve been “reading” for ages. Most recent first.)

    • The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved by Sandor Katz
    • Sacred Attitudes by Erica Ross-Krieger
    • Body, Soul, and Baby by Tracy Gaudet
    • What to Expect When You’re Expecting by Heidi Murkoff, Arlene Eisenberg, and Sandee Hathaway
    • The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst
    • A Long Obedience in the Same Direction by Eugene Peterson

    In the library book box:

    • Real Food by Nina Planck
    • The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan
    • Thursday Next in First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde
    • Agatha Raisin and the Vicious Vet by M.C. Beaton
    • Agatha Raisin and the Potted Gardener by M.C. Beaton
    • Agatha Raising and the Quiche of Death by M.C. Beaton
    • Harriet Bean and the League of Cheats by Alexander McCall Smith
    • The Happiest Baby on the Block by Harvey Karp, M.D.
    • So That’s What They’re For! by Janet Tamero